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Causes Of High Cholesterol

High cholesterol is caused by a variety of factors, including lifestyle choices and family history. Learn what is behind your cholesterol numbers.

While a big factor in high cholesterol is a diet rich in foods that contain a lot of cholesterol, that isn’t the whole story. In reality, a person’s cholesterol level is influenced by two groups of factors: things that can be controlled or changed (lifestyle choices) and things that can’t be controlled or changed (predispositions). Understanding how each factor applies to you helps you understand your personal risk level, and gives you steps you can take to control your cholesterol.

Lifestyle Choices

These are factors that people can change by making better decisions in their day-to-day lives. Every day, you decide whether you will choose to do things that will lower your cholesterol or choose to do things that will put you at risk for elevated cholesterol.

Activity Level

People who live a sedentary lifestyle, meaning they don’t move much during the day, are at an increased risk for high cholesterol. By exercising regularly, you can increase good cholesterol (HDL) and decrease bad cholesterol (LDL). Even light to moderate intensity exercise can be helpful.


About 20% of cholesterol comes from what you eat. The other 80% is made by your body. Saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol in food raises a person’s cholesterol, so a diet high in these types of food will lead to higher cholesterol. While some people still have elevated cholesterol even though they adhere to a healthy diet, for most people making better eating choices helps reduce cholesterol.


Smoking damages your arteries and lowers good cholesterol (HDL) levels. In fact, smoking is one of the leading factors that contribute to heart disease. Quitting smoking can help reverse damage and improve health.

Body Weight

Your body stores energy that you don’t use as triglycerides. When you consume more calories than your body needs, you are increasing your level of triglycerides. High levels of triglycerides lowers HDL levels. Losing just ten to twenty pounds can help lower your cholesterol levels.


It has been indicated that people who report a lot of stress in their lives have higher levels of cholesterol, but it is unclear if stress is the primary cause of this increase or if stress causes other bad behavior, such as eating fatty foods. Because stress is a risk factor for other conditions, it’s best to try to reduce the amount of stress you encounter.


Predisposition means that you are naturally at a higher risk for a condition. For raised cholesterol levels, predispositions include factors like age, race, family, history, and gender. While you can’t change your predispositions, being aware of them and discussing them with your doctor can help prevent and treat cholesterol levels effectively.


Younger men tend to have higher cholesterol than younger women. When looking at people over the age of 55, however, this disparity decreases.


Like many other conditions, high cholesterol becomes more common as people age. For men, risk begins to increase at around 45 years of age. For women, this increase happens around 55 years of age, after menopause has occurred.


Sometimes race plays a role in cholesterol levels. African Americans, for instance, are at a higher risk for elevated cholesterol levels than their Caucasian counterparts.

Family History

If your family has a history of elevated cholesterol, you probably have a genetic predisposition to the condition. This is especially true of someone in your immediate family has had problems, particularly at a young age. Family history might also make some people more resistant to the positive effects of lifestyle change, such as losing weight. The important thing is to communicate with your doctor and keep trying to make healthy choices.

Another factor for raised cholesterol is medication. Certain medications raise cholesterol as a side effect. This may be a controllable risk factor, if it possible to switch medications or it may be more similar to a predisposition if changing drugs is not an option. Ask your doctor if any medication may be contributing to your cholesterol levels.

Elevated cholesterol increases the chances that you will develop other conditions, and elevated cholesterol levels can make existing conditions even worse. By changing your lifestyle, you can reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke. It can be overwhelming for some people who have predispositions to elevated cholesterol, but it is important to remember that there are many risk factors that can be controlled.

Talking to your doctor about both categories of risk factors is important for reducing risk. Be honest describing your lifestyle, and give as comprehensive family history as possible. Your doctor can help you come up with a plan to reduce your cholesterol that may involve changes in lifestyle, weight loss, and medication.

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